Saturday, June 27, 2009

Satisfactory Return

Hello everyone,

As I posted this week, this weekend I played in my first tournament in six months. I played in the Open section of the Swiss, as #4 on the wallchart and finished with 2 wins against A players with White and 2 losses with black against a master and an IM. I am pleased; all the games were hard fought, I managed my time well, and I didn't have too terrible tactical blindness, save for a time pressure one against IM Vigorito in Round 2 (OK, OK, I did almost hang my queen to a one mover).

My game against master Carey Theil in Round 3 was a curious one, in which I made a deep stratego-tactical oversight that led to an unpleasant position. Plus, I missed a single late-game chance to fight for a draw.

Theil-Rihel, 2009

1.c4 Nf6 2.Nc3 g6 3. e4 d6 4.g3 Bg7 5. Bg2 O-O 6. Nge2 e5 7. d3 Nc6 8. h3 Bd7 9. Be3 Qc8 10.Qd2 a6

Funny: Up to now, we are both following a single game in my database, Valkesalmi- Computer MChess Pro 5.0, from 1996. I'd better be careful following those computer moves or someone will think I'm cheating! In the original game, White played Rc1, and eventually lost. Carey tried a different idea.

11. Bh6 Rb8 12. Nd5 Nxd5 13. exd5 Nd4!?

An important decision. Yes, Black will be sacking the pawn on d4, but I figured I could get away with this because to win the pawn, White's king will have to stay in the center of the board where he will be quite exposed. White is having difficulty castling kingside, and queenside castling at least looks optically dangerous with Black already gunning on that side of the board. That is illusory, though, for White can quickly put pressure on Black's king. One line goes 14. Nxd4 exd4 15. O-O-O c5 16. h4 and now Black must be careful- 16...Bxh6 17. Qxh6 f6 (a clever way to prevent h5, because then g5 and Black's king is quite safe). 18. Rde1 Rf7 19. Qf4 Qc7 and white is slightly better, but Black is holding everything together.

Carey takes the pawn. As he said after the game, "A pawn is a pawn." 14. Nxd4 exd4 15. Bxg7 Re8+ 16. Kf1 Kxg7 17. Qf4 hits the pawn on d4.
I saw all this and thought Black's lines will open quickly now. One thing I didn't realize was important enough-- Black's dark squares are very weak. This turns out to be critical.

17... c6 The start of a long-range plan that turns out to fail. White's command of the dark squares AND the white squares in the center gives him enough time to move the king to a safe square and keep black out of the position.

18. Qxd4+ Kg8 (f6 had to be considered) 19. Re1 Rxe1 20. Kxe1 cxd5 (b5 looks like a better try; the text just forces white to make good squares for his king) 21. Bxd5 Bc6 22. Kf1 b5 23. Kg2! bxc4 24. dxc4 Bxd5+ 25. cxd5

Oops. Here I thought I was about to get my pawn back and penetrate White's 2nd rank. This was a position I had in mind when I played c6 on move 17, and only now, in the end, do I see a fatal flaw. If 25. Qc2 Re1! and my back rank is too weak. 26. Qxb2?? 27. Re8+ wins the queen. This suggests that 18... f6 would have been better than Kg8 as well.

I now burn a lot of clock to find some kind of active defence.

25...Qe8 26. Rc1 a5 27. Rc7 Rb4 28. Qf6

And here, late in the game, I miss my best chance to force a rook and pawn endgame that I might be able to hold with 28...Qe4+ 29. Kh2 Qf5! and now white has to trade queens and give up some important pawns. For example, 30. Qxf5 gxf5 31. b3 Rd4 32. Kg2 Rxd5 33. Ra7 and now black has a good chance to hold the draw. Or 30. Rxf7 Qxf6 31. Rxf6 Rxb2 32. Kg2 Rxa2 33. Rxd6 Kf7 Rd7+ Kf6 and again, Black has at least practical chances.
But I played 28...Rb6. So much for my active defence. 29. Re7 Qf8 30. Rd7 Rb8 31. b3 Qe8 32 Re7 Qf8 33.Qxd6 Rd8 34. Qe5 Rxd5 35. Qxd5 Qxe7 36. Qxa5 Qe4+ 37. Kh2 Qc2 I hit upon the idea of attacking the f-pawn way too late 38. Qa7 h5 39. h4 f6 40. Qd4 Kg7 41. a4 Qxb3 42. a5 and some more moves were played but is soon becomes clear that Black can't stop the a-pawn.

Clearly, in the critical positions, I made some bad evals and under-analyzed critical lines like f6 and b5. Still, considering my other games as well, I must be happy with my play after six months of rust.

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